An Unfiltered Crank in the Study

I’m struggling with everything right now and when I’m struggling, I can get a little grumpy. I’m still working the microresolutions from the last couple of months, putting in time every day on the novel, and trying to make better choices despite the winter discontent creeping in. But occasionally, I need to poke a few vent holes and let the steam escape.

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When I hear people be passionate about whatever they’re passionate about, I wonder what is wrong with me. Why don’t I have fiery rhetoric? Why is everything I say automatically followed by brakes (is this right? is this necessary? is this helpful?). I used to admire people who lacked self-consciousness, who burst canstockphoto14157022forth with whatever emotion they had on the tips of their tongues. It seemed like fearlessness. But that has all changed.

Now that blurting has become a socially acceptable, nay encouraged, form of communication, it’s just irritating – from a President with Twitter diarrhea and an incomprehensible syntax, to the digital lynch mob of ideological purity, intent on destroying people’s careers and lives, choosing the “difference without distinction” approach to all offenses, no matter how minor or grievous.

Is it irony to wonder on a blog, if people talk too much and listen too little?

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canstockphoto27854960.jpgI just read about Life Time Fitness choosing not to show cable news channels in its gyms saying that cable news was not conducive to a healthy lifestyle. Amen. Immediately people were crying censorship and that the gym was interfering with their time management. Ohforchrissake. News reports stream out of every technological orifice in our society. In waiting rooms, restaurants, on our computers, our phones, even at the gas pump. Take a breather, do your workout, the world will still be turning out shitty sound bites after you walk out the door.

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canstockphoto28277727Holiday cards have become postcard versions of Facebook – a collage of pictures of all the prettiest moments during the year. We get more of these each year, replacing cards that have actual handwritten notes. Just text us with a link next year, so that we can continue to know as little about you as possible, except for your dental work and where you vacationed. I’m thinking about taking pictures when our family has the flu, when our drains in the basement back up, and the last pile of cat barf I had to clean up. People will take us off their list right quick.

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canstockphoto24846599After I drink my kombucha-snail slime smoothie, do my Freezer Cold Yogilates, spend an hour saying inane positive things to myself in the mirror (I am a stable genius, I am a stable genius), buff my skin back to my seventeen year old self, organize my spice rack by geographical location of their fair trade markets, Feng Shui my house so that everything faces whichever direction cultural appropriation comes from, and strap on all the devices to monitor just how much of a lazy shit I will be today, I need a nap.

Sometimes when you’re bone tired of trying to improve yourself, don’t you just want to find a self-help guru and tell them to fuck right off?

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We’ve had a few atypical days weather-wise here. Last night, I went walking in spring-like temps. I live in a suburb where a lot of streets do not have sidewalks and where the lighting is sparse. Having spent more of my life as a single woman than not, I think through worst-case scenarios. I pay attention to the shadows in the dark, remind myself of pressure points, jiu-jitsu moves, and make sure I know what direction I’d run in.

These days, I’m more concerned about being picked off by an errant driver than running into a criminal with perfect timing. I think getting hit by a car is one of the more ignominious ways to die. To prevent that, I dress up like a damned Christmas tree just to go on a walk. LED lights on a vest with option of blinking when I really want to look like a construction site.

canstockphoto17889074Then last night happened. I passed a man walking his dog with bright blue lights flashing all over his doggy coat and a woman with a vest where two vertical lines of red lights cascaded up and down her front, like she was a human landing strip. Perhaps we’ve just created a more ridiculous way to be found dead.

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So what do you do when the dark mood descends? I have a couple of different approaches. Eat until I fall into a carb-induced coma or workout in a manner that suggests I’m preparing for a death match. Today it’s a workout in the hopes that I can follow it up with some heavy duty writing. If you’re a moody person like me, I find it helps to write the dark scenes when I’m feeling grim, to use the emotions already floating about in my head. Afterwards, I feel spent, but marginally better.

Do you find yourself writing according to mood?

The Small Surprises in Everyday Life

It was -7F/-22C, not including the wind chill factor yesterday. It took me half the day to convince myself to go for a walk. With the family home for a couple of weeks and driving made less desirable due to ice and subzero temps, I was feeling antsy.

canstockphoto8126296You’d think, after living in Minnesota for the last 19 years, I’d have special cold gear. There would be outfits ritually unpacked each winter – thermal underwear, snow pants and jacket, accessories all matching in color.

Apparently when it comes to fashion, I like free-styling it. So I put on some compression shorts, long underwear pants, sweatpants, two pairs of socks, a long sleeve shirt, a short sleeve shirt, a hooded sweatshirt, a fleece-lined raincoat (to break the wind), mismatched hat and gloves and scarf. I slathered on some lotion and lip balm to cut down on the wind burn.

The first leg of my usual 3.5 mile walk headed west, straight into the wind. I felt the chill down to my bones. I kept having a conversation with myself. You can always go back if it’s too much. I wonder just how stupid I am being. My cheeks are always the first to feel the burn. I pull up my scarf, already covered with the crystals of my exhalations.

My tracks from two days ago are still the only ones on this stretch, crisscrossed by rabbit and squirrel tracks. I found myself stepping the same way, habitual and careful. Slipping in these temps can have a deadly outcome. It brings an element of meditation – each step is the only step you have to worry about.

canstockphoto34212394A large flock of mallards flies overhead. Their conversation fades and I’m left with the sound of snow crunching beneath my hikers. Human beings are scarce and when I pass them, they are assessed quickly.

The dog people are easiest – hastily dressed people shivering, bouncing on their feet as their dog sniffs and putters. At any other time of the year, this would be a relaxing jaunt for them and to the dog, it still is.

I pass an older man. He is carrying a plastic drugstore bag and not dressed for the weather – in lightweight khakis and stiff leather dress shoes. I smile and say “hi”, but he keeps his head down. All I can think is that his legs must burn now, if they have any feeling left at all.

canstockphoto13217575I pass by the empty outdoor skating rinks, the school lot where one vehicle sits, music thumping, exhaust sending up smoke signals. It’s an odd place to make out or sell drugs or do surveillance. More likely, and less of  interest, they’re lost. Streets here are often interrupted by cul-de-sacs and sports fields only to be continued on the other side.

I’m in the last half mile of my walk. While I’m surprisingly warm everywhere else, my cheeks no longer have feeling and I know it’s time to get inside.

I pass by the church where I was married. It’s why I still have my maiden name. I am not a believer, but my husband is, so I said yes we can marry in a church, but…Occasionally he makes a pointed comment and I just shrug. I like my last name better than his.

A woman comes toward me carrying a cloth bag and a backpack, glasses iced up from the cold.

“Excuse me, but is there any place close, like a business, where I can get warm?”

She is in her twenties and has a Slavic accent. She was meeting some friends at the church and she got dropped off early, but the church was locked. She’d been out there for nearly an hour and sounded desperate.

I offered to walk her in the direction of a grocery store I knew a shortcut to, but it was still a six-block hike. I looked at her boots – fashion boots that I so often see women in Northern climates wearing and cannot comprehend. Thin black leather boots with a heel and no tread at all on the bottom.

She smiled uncertainly. I can be helpful when I’m in the mood and I felt rather sorry for her. So we began walking to the grocery store. I asked where she was from.

canstockphoto10144086“Moscow. And it’s not as cold there as it is here!”

“Да, это очень холодно.”

I was delighted to practice a bit of Russian with her. She was an exchange student in a program in South Dakota, learning English to be a translator and visiting friends in the Twin Cities. We had a nice conversation, but I could tell she was concerned when I started to lead her across a wide field.

We finally reached the bottom of a small hill and I pointed her in the direction of the store. She smiled and thanked me profusely, likely out of relief that I was neither going to rob her nor try to bring her home to my serial predator boyfriend. I smiled the rest of the way home thinking up all the bizarre options that could result from following a stranger.

I woke up this morning uncharacteristically optimistic.

Over the last week, I’d been feeling some anxiety, noticing how much my body and face were aging. Thinking about how quickly time is passing by. Surprise heartburn two nights ago had me looking up heart attack symptoms in women on my phone in the middle of the night. My daughter just got her notification for high school open house and several relatives are in the last stretch of their lives. Time and mortality and fear were weighing on me heavily.

The unexpected encounter on my walk reminded me about what a fantastic world I live in. That I could be out on this routine walk in my little suburb and run into a Muscovite, have a conversation in Russian, and then be on my way home. Unexpected and surprising, which is what life really is, if you’re paying attention.

Wishing you a Year Full of Little Surprises & Big Meaning!

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The Walking Room of Requirement

It’s hard to write when you don’t even want to talk. I was surprised that it had been nearly three weeks since I’d written a blog post, despite the fact that they have seemed interminably long weeks. I’m here, because I’ve been inside my own head for too long and at some point, it makes it hard to be in the world.

canstockphoto2046365Instead of connecting with people, I’ve been reading, gardening, and walking. It’s made me more intolerant of small talk than I already was and I know that is not a good thing. I’m in the middle of reading The War on Science: Who’s Waging It, Why It Matters, What We Can Do About It by Shawn Otto and The Age of Anxiety by W.H. Auden. At breakfast, I pour through the tiny print of the most recent issue of The Economist. At night, I’ve been reading The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead.

I decided a few weeks ago to concentrate on reading and fitness and to let everything else fall by the wayside. On the heels of a lengthy depression, movement has become the antidote. I’ve been walking, biking, and running every day. I’ve dropped some weight, which is a nice gift to my knees. But all the focus and grim determination means that I feel a bit brittle on the inside.

canstockphoto4799180In suburbia, even in the older neighborhoods, walking is one of the most solitary activities there is – no one is outdoors except in transition from house to car and vice versa. On the rare occasion when I pass a walker or biker on the sidewalk, my smile feels strange, the muscles unused for too long. I wonder if it looks as creepy as I imagine it does.

Walking serves as meditation. Thoughts are allowed to come and go as they please. No attachment to outcomes or items to be added to a list. It occurred to me that I’m at a point in my life where I don’t know what I need. That maybe this moment, this padding along the pavement is it for now.

At first all is dark and each walks alone. What they share is only the feeling of remoteness and desertion, of having marched for miles and miles, of having lost their bearings, of a restless urge to find water. Gradually for each in turn darkness begins to dissolve and their vision to take shape.

W.H. Auden, The Age of Anxiety

canstockphoto3578336Each time I return from a walk, I do not return the same as when I left. I remembered someone from long ago. I realized a feeling that I’d been ignoring. I saw where I’d been, like peeking into a series of rooms in a large building, to see if I was in the right place. Been there, never want to go there again, that was a nice visit, maybe the next one.

If I were to look for something specific, I would be thorough and systematic. I am the finder of things in our household. But walking means that I am the discoverer of things and that I have no control over what they might be.

“…it is a room that a person can only enter when they have real need of it. Sometimes it is there, and sometimes it is not, but when it appears, it is always equipped for the seeker’s needs.”

J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

No great epiphany has hit me. I’m in a time of life of unknowing – who I am becoming, who I will be, what will happen. There are no plans, no driving forces working their will upon me. I’ve done it all before, sometimes repeatedly. Enough to know that letting go is the last frontier, that everything that has weighed me down, made me hold my breath, kept me on the sidelines, no longer carries weight.

I’ve realized that I can maintain my awareness in the world without getting caught in the cycling of outrage and lies. I can positively contribute without lying awake nights wondering how so much hatefulness can exist. I can look into the dark heart of humanity and still choose to embrace joy and love and kindness. I must keep walking until the shadows recede and the light warms my face.

In these hours and days of dual solitude on the river we hope to discover something quite different, to renew our affection for ourselves and the human kind in general by a temporary, legal separation from the mass. And in what other way is it possible for those not saints?

Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire

Walking It Off

The flu still hangs about, but now it is disconsolate and whiny. It knows that it is on the way out. I intend to finish it off with a walk on a sunny, mild day. In Minnesota. In January. The end must be near.

Walking seems to be a cure for many things, not the least of which is the malaise that hits in the dead of winter. We’ve had such an odd winter here in Minnesota –  just look at what we’re wearing. Fall wear hasn’t gone out of style and random bright colors mean some people have just said “screw it” and decided it was spring. I bought snow pants in the fall, determined to add more outdoor winter activities to my repertoire.  They still have the new snow pants smell.

Since I work from home, I often feel overwhelmed by my “to do” list. There’s no real down time. If I’m not working, I’m playing the “I should” game in my head while watching reruns on Netflix. It’s a nervous form of relaxation.  Which is to say, it’s doing nothing and it’s not at all relaxing. Walking outside of my home without headphones and a heart rate monitor or a shopping list feels wasteful initially. There’s so much I could be doing. The reality, of course, is that I’m not doing those things. I’m edgy, jumping from text to email to Google with an alacrity that would have given Evelyn Wood seizures.

Stepping outside my back door for the first foray of the day causes a strange sensation, like getting off roller skates and having to learn how to walk again. It’s a reintegration into the physical world – I’m no longer just eyeballs twitching between software applications. Before I had a “busy schedule”, I walked everywhere. Now it’s a rare thing to see someone out on the street just walking for the sake of it. My neighborhood of classic 1950s starter homes was designed, like many suburbs, with no sidewalks.

I’ve walked endlessly many times in my life, marched miles in the Army, walked from a broken down car on the interstate, walked to a 4am job in the dead of winter. I’ve been chased by dogs, pooped on by birds, splattered by speeding car tires. Mostly though, I just walked. I was in motion and whenever I landed back at my starting point, I had a different perspective. It seemed just a little bit easier to dig in or let go of whatever had me stuck in the first place.

We’re in for a mild week and it’s a great opportunity to put some mileage on my walking shoes. They’ll look fabulous with my parka and shorts.